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in Filmmaking
on Feb 18, 2010

The film must-read of the moment is Chris Jones’ beautifully written profile of Roger Ebert in Esquire magazine. Of course the article chronicles Ebert’s recent health problems — cancer operations that have wound up removing much of his lower job and eliminated his ability to eat, drink, and speak. But the piece also succeeds in capturing the strange and inspiring mix of sagacity and serenity that Ebert is projecting in late career through not only his reviews but also his Twitter page and blog. I was talking to a colleague not too long ago about which traditional media types had managed to maintain their relevance in the digital age and which hadn’t. When it came to Ebert, we both said, “His voice is stronger than ever.”

An excerpt from Jones’ piece:

There are places where Ebert exists as the Ebert he remembers. In 2008, when he was in the middle of his worst battles and wouldn’t be able to make the trip to Champaign-Urbana for Ebertfest — really, his annual spring festival of films he just plain likes — he began writing an online journal. Reading it from its beginning is like watching an Aztec pyramid being built. At first, it’s just a vessel for him to apologize to his fans for not being downstate. The original entries are short updates about his life and health and a few of his heart’s wishes. Postcards and pebbles. They’re followed by a smattering of Welcomes to Cyberspace. But slowly the journal picks up steam, as Ebert’s strength and confidence and audience grow. You are the readers I have dreamed of, he writes. He is emboldened. He begins to write about more than movies; in fact, it sometimes seems as though he’d rather write about anything other than movies. The existence of an afterlife, the beauty of a full bookshelf, his liberalism and atheism and alcoholism, the health-care debate, Darwin, memories of departed friends and fights won and lost — more than five hundred thousand words of inner monologue have poured out of him, five hundred thousand words that probably wouldn’t exist had he kept his other voice. Now some of his entries have thousands of comments, each of which he vets personally and to which he will often respond. It has become his life’s work, building and maintaining this massive monument to written debate — argument is encouraged, so long as it’s civil — and he spends several hours each night reclined in his chair, tending to his online oasis by lamplight. Out there, his voice is still his voice — not a reasonable facsimile of it, but his.

“It is saving me,” he says through his speakers.

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